Chopper flights for staff at troubled NDA

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The Independent Online

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has hired a helicopter to ferry its executives around the country at an estimated cost of £1,000 per hour, despite a budget crisis.

The authority said it could work out cheaper to fly employees from its base near Whitehaven in the North West of England to its 20 reactor sites.

But a union said it was "disgraceful" the NDA was spending money in this way.

The authority signed a one-year contract with PDG Helicopters last month to charter its aircraft. The chopper company's website boasts: "PDG Helicopters has an unrivalled capability for transporting passengers with speed and style."

As well as providing regular transport to remote areas, the company's charter service covers golf tournaments, motor racing, horse racing, concerts, island-hopping, weddings, birthdays and that "Special Occasion".

The NDA said that travelling to the reactor sites by helicopter could save time and money because many of them are far from airports. A spokesman said that the contract did not require an advance payment and that the service had not yet been used. "It's an experiment to see if it will be beneficial," he said.

But Dougie Rooney, the national energy officer at Amicus, which represents many nuclear workers, said: "It's a disgraceful position for them to be in, particularly at a time when the NDA is cutting back budgets and threatening to disrupt the decommissioning programme."

The authority, which funds the clean up of Britain's nuclear sites, will confirm this week how much it needs to cut from next year's decommissioning budget. It is expected to announce that the Treasury has agreed to plug its funding deficit by £290m. This would leave British Nuclear Group and UKAEA, which operate the authority's sites, to cut £160m from planned decommissioning work.

The NDA has a funding shortfall partly because its Magnox reactors have not generated as much income as expected.